September 29, 2014 — I was working at my first post-college job when Anita Hill became an international symbol of what so often happens to women who speak truth to power. Watching how Hill was treated by the then all-male U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee turned me into a feminist. The truth is, I was always a feminist. But Hill’s experience compelled me to name my deeply held belief in the equality of men and women.
Her story also made me angry.
One day in the early 1990s, around the time of Hill’s testimony, I was sitting on a city bus, listening to a man harassing an immigrant woman. The woman couldn’t speak English but was using gestures to indicate that she wanted to be left alone. Yet he persisted. After several minutes, becoming more and more upset on her behalf, I intervened, asking him to leave the woman alone.
What do you think happened next?
He exploded. Yelling, shaking his fist in my face, calling me a “feminist bitch.” I was terrified, worried that he would hit me, or, worse, follow me off the bus. Just as upsetting was the fact that no one stood up to defend me, or the woman I was attempting to protect. The men on that bus sat quietly, watching, but doing and saying nothing.
Our fear was our problem. Our rights and safety were ours to defend.
I was recently reminded of this story while watching Emma Watson’s remarkable UN speech calling for support of a new initiative, HeForShe, designed to foster solidarity among men and women who believe in equality—then reading about those who were so frightened by her power, they took to social media to denounce and intimidate her.
Once again, I feel compelled to stand with another woman, applauding her courage and letting her know she is not alone. I also want to echo her message and invite men to stand with us. Catalyst has an active online community for male advocates of gender equality—it’s called MARC (Men Advocating for Real Change).
In July, NPR radio host Michel Martin published an insightful piece on balancing career and family as a woman of color. In it she addresses her allies: “I don't want my white female colleagues to ‘check’ their privilege. I want them to use it—their networks, their assets, their relationships—to form a united front with women of color, and to help improve things for all of us.”
This reflects our message to men: MARC is about solidarity, not guilt. It’s about using male privilege, not just acknowledging it. Some men, including actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the 15-year-old British boy who defended Emma Watson, are already doing this. We need all of you. Check out MARC and join us today!